I recently had a chat with our Board Governance expert at my host organization Ellie Reiter! Ellie Reiter joined Youth INC in 2015 as an Associate Director on the Programs Team. In her current role as Senior Associate Director, her responsibilities include managing the Board Advancement Program, the Succession Planning Program, and other board related initiatives. She shares some insight on board service and governance.

  • Hi Ellie, could you tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up in the nonprofit sector?

Hi! After teaching English abroad for a couple of years I moved to New York and started managing a Fulbright program at the Institute of International Education for Foreign Language Teaching Assistants.  I ended up really loving the work of managing programs and guiding people through educational, capacity building experiences.

  • What would you say board governance board service is?

Governance is overseeing the health of an organization and the work it takes to drive its mission forward.  More tactically speaking, board members need to be prepared to contribute their time, treasure, talent, and ties to board service.  The time component entails attending and participating in board meetings, committee work, attending events, and accomplishing tasks.  The treasure, (as you may have guessed), typically includes a personal gift and fundraising from your networks.  The talent piece is bringing your expertise and strategic thinking to support the ED and board tasks such as reviewing financial reports, strategic planning, mission alignment, and impact metrics. Finally, the ties piece is being willing to open up your networks to the organization.

  • What are the laws about board governance in the US?

Nonprofits are guided by the regulations associated with their status with the IRS and those set forth by their state’s Attorney General.  Board members must comply with the three fiduciary duties of board membership including Duty of Care (participate and exercise sound judgement), Duty of Loyalty (act in the best interest of the organization – monitor conflicts of interest), and Duty of Obedience (comply with laws and maintain ethical integrity). Nonprofits should access to legal support when putting into place and updating required documents and policies that keep the organization, and board, in compliance.

  • What should nonprofits look for when recruiting board members?

Nonprofits ideally align recruitment priorities with organizational priorities and board needs.  Through this process, boards identify the skills, networks, fundraising capacity, and attributes of potential candidates and align them with current gaps in the board’s composition.  They also look for people who bring enthusiasm about the mission, collaborate well, and have a “can do, will pitch in” attitude!

  • What qualities make a good board member?

A good board member is someone who is willing to take initiative, follow through, and be available for the organization.  Often people count themselves out of board service because they are concerned that they can’t fundraise or don’t have a network of high net-worth individuals.  While an organization needs board members to drive resources to the organization, it also needs people who are willing to pick up the phone or roll up their sleeves to jump in where needed.

  • What pitfalls do you think nonprofits make and should avoid when it comes to board service?

This is a tricky question.  Some of the typical challenges nonprofits face are how to maximize engagement on the board and how to evolve as a board in step with the evolving needs of the organization.  Board members are volunteers, often with busy lives and busy jobs.  Keeping them focused and engaged at the level the organization would like or need, can often be a challenge.  There is no required training or experience for being on a board so many members are learning on the job.

  • Any last thoughts the importance of board service?

Board service is an amazing opportunity to contribute to a social impact organization, meet new people and engage your leadership skills in a new context.  You should go for it!